SAN DIEGO (AP) — A gunman distraught over a recent breakup calmly reclined in a pool chair as he shot strangers at a birthday party and phoned his ex-girlfriend so she could hear the gunfire and screams of terror, San Diego police said Monday.
Before police fatally shot him, Peter Selis killed one woman and wounded six other people in a rampage that turned a birthday party into bedlam as shots echoed among upscale apartment towers, people ran for their lives and the wounded lay bleeding by the pool.
All but one of the victims were black and Latino and Selis was white, but police don’t think race played a factor.
“These victims were just in his vicinity when he committed this terrible tragedy,” police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said. “What started as a celebration of a friend’s birthday party turned into a tragedy of just epic proportion for all those in attendance.”
Selis, 49, was despondent and depressed over a recent breakup, though family and friends interviewed by police had no hint of any sinister plot.
As children splashed in the pool Sunday, a family soaked in a hot tub and others ate chips and hot dogs, the gunman stood out from the crowd of about 35 as he sat by the pool gate wearing a heavy black jacket on a hot day, said Demetrius Griffin, a guest at the party.
The shooting began after the man celebrating his 50th birthday approached Selis. Griffin assumed his friend, who was always welcoming, invited the man to join the fun.
Instead, he pulled a gun from his waistband, shot the party host twice in the torso and then opened fire on the party, Griffin said.
“It was very eerie, to say the least,” Griffin said. “He didn’t stand up. He didn’t say anything. He just opened fire.”
Griffin briefly froze and then dropped to the ground as six rounds sent people scattering and dropped others on the pool deck.
After shooting two people, Selis, a resident at the complex, called his ex-girlfriend to tell her what he’d done.
“Selis stayed on the phone talking to his ex-girlfriend as he continued to fire his weapon,” Zimmerman said. “It is apparent that Selis wanted his ex-girlfriend to listen in as he carried out his rampage.”
During the brief call, Selis told the woman that he had shot two police, the police were arriving and then “made some reference to ‘shooting it out’ or something along those lines,” Assistant Police Chief Brian Ahearn said. The woman heard two more gunshots before the line went dead, he said.
At 6:06 p.m., a caller told police two people had been shot at the La Jolla Crossroads complex on Judicial Drive. Several other callers reported hearing gunfire and people screaming.
One victim, 34-year-old Thomas Blea, gave thanks to a security guard at the apartment complex who quickly hustled him and two other victims to safety.
“That guy saved us a lot of time. Getting us to the fire department in a safe zone,” said Blea as he sat with his leg bandaged in a wheelchair outside the hospital. The guard’s name has not been released.
Rikky Galiendes, a student at the University of California, San Diego, said he heard between eight and 10 gunshots, looked outside his sixth-story apartment and saw a bleeding man running near the pool below.
“The whole thing was really emotionally draining — seeing blood everywhere, seeing bodies on the ground, hoping they survived, seeing bloody footsteps you know of people who ran away,” Galiendes said. “There was just so much blood.”
A police helicopter and officers on the ground arrived about 7 minutes after the first call. The pilot reported seeing multiple victims down and directed officers to Selis, who he said appeared to be reloading his weapon.
Selis was killed as he fired his .45-caliber handgun at a sergeant and two officers, Zimmerman said.
Selis shot three black women, two black men, a Latino man and a white woman, police said.
Six of the shooting victims were expected to survive, Zimmerman said. Another man was taken to the hospital after he broke his arm running away.
Selis, a father who worked as a mechanic at a Ford dealership, filed for federal bankruptcy protection in October 2015, listing $14,000 in assets and $108,000 in liabilities, according to court records.
Investigators have not found any notes or evidence in his internet search history to suggest that Selis planned the shooting, Ahearn said.
“There was nothing obvious or public that this was his intention,” he said.
Griffin, who helped carry a woman shot in the legs to safety, woke up Monday in a panic thinking he was still at the pool.
“I was shaking. I started crying,” he said. “My eyes got really, really big as if they were going to pop out of my head, and I kind of rolled over off the couch, onto the floor as if the gunman were still active.”
Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber, Michael Balsamo and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that one of the victims was white and not all of the victims were black or Latino, according to new information provided by police.
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